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Radio Airplay 101 - What Are Your Goals?

New for 2014: If you were going to build a restaurant, you'd have some type of goal or plan before construction began, right? If you were going to buy a car, you'd have some type of goal or plan as to what you wanted, how much the payments would be, what the color would be, etc., right? Well for some reason, artists never have a goal for their music (much less radio), other than to "get it out there", or to "do as much as possible". Can you imagine telling a restaurant contractor to build you "as much restaurant as possible", or telling a car dealer that you want "as much car as possible"?

When you have a numerical goal (any numerical goal), the best way to achieve that goal is to minimize anything else that might stand in the way of that goal. If your restaurant goal was to be able to sit 500 people at once, then you can get cheaper real estate and put the extra money into a larger building and more seats instead. If your goal however is to serve only expensive dinners, then you can reduce the number of seats and put the extra money into fine-dining amenities. With this in mind, here are some numerical goals you can think about...

SPINS: This is probably what most people think about when they think about radio, especially now with the "counter" on Youtube that artists often fake by "buying views". A "spin" is a single play on a single radio station (or in a club). The way to maximize spins is to minimize how difficult they are to get. So, you go for college stations or web stations, or for commercial radio, you go to unrated and small market regular rotation stations(especially in the overnights). For college radio campaigns, 10 to 100 spins a week is common, and for unrated/small market commercial regular rotation, 50 to 500 spins a week is common.

PLAYLISTS: A playlist is a list of what a single station played in one week (sometimes, one month). Even a single spin on a playlist still puts you on that playlist, albeit at the bottom. So, you want to go after college, web, and unrated/small market commercial stations (especially tests, spikes, mixshows and specialty), and go for a LOT of them (hundreds) at once, so you can get one or two spins on as many playlists as possible. When you print all these playlists out at the end of a campaign, it is really an impressive stack, and will impress almost anybody. It's common to get 50 to 200 playlists in a campaign (many are weekly repeats on a single station, proving longevity).

CHARTING: A "chart" is a weekly count of how many plays a certain GROUP of radio stations is playing you in a week; it's very similar to how many playlists you are on in a week. Radio charts, as of 2014, all are based on spins. So you simply want to maximize spins, generally by going after the smaller stations which report to the particular chart you want, and going after the easier overnight spins which count the same as the daytime spins. Only the person at the station (the PD at commercial, or an MD at college) has control over what is reported to the chart.

LISTENS: Listens are what drive everything in the music business. A "listen" (also called "audience" or an "impression") is when one person hears a song one time. If you play your song to 5 people in your living room, you have 5 listens. If you play the same song to the same 5 people again, you now have 10 listens, although the number of listeners is still 5. Getting lots of listens is the toughest and most expensive part of radio, and the music business in general, because you have to maximize the number of stations, and the number of spins on these stations, and the number of listeners to each spin, simultaneously. College and web campaigns can't be used because the listenership is almost zero. Unrated/small market* station campaigns can commonly get 10,000 to 100,000 listens per week, for a total of 100,000 to 1,000,000 listens. Medium market station campaigns can commonly get 200,000 to 1,000,000 listens per week, for a total of 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 listens. And major market station campaigns can get 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 listens per week, and a total of 5,000,000 to 50,000,000 listens. These are in the U.S. alone, and are for one song.

MARKET SIZES: Sometime an investor, sponsor, or parent wants you to be played in a large city (market) that he or she knows, and it does not really matter to them how many times (spins) it plays, or how many times it's heard (listens), because these people don't really understand what difference it makes. In these cases you want to go for single spins ("tests", "spikes", "specialty", "mixshow") on the smallest stations in the biggest markets that you can get. Just being able to say "WXYZ" in BIG TOWN played you, even though it's the smallest station there, and even though it's just one spin overnight, is sometimes enough to make your next step happen.

REFERRALS: Getting a "referral" is when a station recommends a store, newspaper, venue, or restaurant in their town, and also tells you who at that store, newspaper, venue or restaurant you should talk to. Referrals are great because almost anyone at any station can give you one. College stations are probably the best because the kids there are unpaid but know a lot of the music scene in the their town; they can however be hard to reach. Commercial stations will always answer the phone, and sometimes even the secretary can give a recommendation. But whatever the situation, when you call the store, newspaper, venue, or restaurant person that the stations recommended, you can be sure that your call will get through much more often because you'll be telling them that you were referred by "John the program director at WXYZ". And getting referrals is simple: Go after LOTS of stations. Since you are not really going for spins, it becomes much easier.

FREE/PAID TICKETS: When a person goes to your gig, we say they got a "ticket", whether the tickets are paid or free. Maximizing tickets (meaning, the number of people who came to your gig just to see you) requires you to maximize listens and to concentrate them in particular cities. Have listens spread out around the world does you no good; all the listens need to be in a particular city so that the listeners in that city will all have heard your song enough times to want to see you live, and will all talk to each other (and to the venues there) about you, so that it will appear that "everyone is talking about you" in that city. Thus, maximizing tickets in particular cities requires you to minimize the number of cites you try for so that you can put all your effort into maximizing spins on the commercial regular rotation stations that are playing you (getting added is just the start; lots of additional effort must go into increasing the spins). College and web stations are of no use for this because they have few listeners, and minimal rotation.

FREE/PAID DOWNLOADS: Getting the most downloads, whether free or paid, is almost the same as getting ticket sales. The listeners need to have heard the song enough times (generally at least 10 times per person, which requires 100 plays per station), so that they and all their friends talk about it enough. Matter of fact, the cities with the most downloads will be the same ones with the most tickets (downloads will occur first). Generally for an unknown indie, it requires 10,000 listens to get one paid sale, whereas a major artist only requires 1,000, because the major is hitting the listeners from ten different direction instead of just one. So the number of listens once again controls everything.

RETAIL SALES: As of 2013, half of all sales are physical CDs. Assuming your physical product is in physical stores (which requires a salesperson to place it there), the number of units sold will be directly proportional to the number of listens in that city. Generally for an unknown indie, it requires 10,000 listens to get one retail sale, whereas a major only requires 1,000.

GIGS: A "gig" is when you are scheduled to perform at a place, free or paid, for a certain number of people. Maximizing the number of gigs is done by minimizing the size of the place, and minimizing the number of people who would see you there (this will make your calendar look full). The smallest gigs would be apartment gigs, where you go from door to door and offer to perform for them in their place; this makes lots of fans quickly. In one day you can do 10 of these gigs, and you really don't need any radio to do them, although there really will not be any ticket sales. As you move up the ladder in venue size, you will reach a point where the places won't talk to you unless you have lots of listens in their city. At this point you are back to the goal of maximizing ticket sales. When you maximize your demand for tickets in a town, you will get booked easily at comparably-sized venues in that town when you call them on the phone.

LABEL/MANAGEMENT/DISTRO OFFERS: Since you can't really have multiple "deals", the goals with labels, management, or physical distribution people is to maximize the number of offers you get from them, of a certain size. Doing this varies widely based on the level of person/people you are trying to get offers from. Individuals, and small labels etc, are usually impressed fairly well with a stack playlists from real AM or FM broadcast stations, whereas medium labels will probably want Billboard charting.

CONSIGNMENTS: Getting your physical product into physical stores on a consignment basis actually just requires a salesperson to do it for you. Any listens, playlists, charting etc is a bonus; but really it's your salesperson visiting each store that does it.

* See for a list of markets

Next topic: Radio Referrals to Gigs: Techniques part 1 of 2

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